Ancestral castle full of creature comforts that make you feel at home
The invitation from the owners, Lord and Lady Masham, was implicit – to make ourselves feel at home in their magnificent ancestral castle in the Yorkshire Dales.
First time visitors to Swinton Park will soon feel the homeliness of the 11-year-old luxury hotel because their hosts even post weather forecasts to their rooms.
The castle, set in 200 acres of parkland, lakes and gardens, dates back to the 17th century but there is nothing ancient about the creature comforts on offer at the park.
These range from wine appreciation lunches to a top of the range spa and gourmet weekends.
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We discovered the 31 bedrooms are individually designed on the theme of a Yorkshire town, dale, garden, castle or abbey – so we were assigned to Fountains Abbey.
The genial manager Peter Llewellyn, who heads up a 55-strong team, soon directed us to the 60-cover restaurant named Samuel's in honour of one of Lord Masham's famous ancestors.
Guests eat in sumptuous surroundings in front of an open fire and head chef Simon Crannage and his team ensure the grub is equally as splendid.
Our menu for dinner – at £52 a head – included Whitby crab with sorbet and apple jelly, braised beef with beetroot gnocchi, veg and red wine jus and warm pistachio and olive oil cake with raspberry sorbet.
Beforehand in the bar we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the real ale at £3.80 a pint for locally-brewed Black Sheep was well in line for a four-star rated hotel.
Lady Masham – it's actually pronounced Massam – informed us most of the meat, game, fruit and veg was sourced from the 20,000 acre Swinton Estate which stretches from the River Ure up onto the moorland dales.
So for breakfast we tasted free range eggs from Tanfield, pork sausages from Masham and cured bacon from Bedale.
This summer the family business has moved into the world of glamping.
A luxury eco-camping site naturally called The Bivouac has been built on the site of a former druids' temple – just two miles from the hotel. Visitors to the park also have the opportunity during the £95-a-head Hunter-Gatherer sessions to forage and hunt for their own food, build a fire and cook a delicious meal.
Other off-beat activities include bicycle polo and farm adventure outdoor team building.
During the school holidays the hotel offers a £250 per room per night package inclusive of free meals and accommodation for children.
If you want to beat a hasty retreat to the great outdoors, the park is the place to be. For further details about Swinton Park call 01765 680900 or visit www.swintonpark.com
How we got there: We travelled by train from Scunthorpe to Doncaster (First Transpennine Express), Doncaster to York (East Coast) and York to Thirsk (First Transpennine Express).
The average time is two hours 26 minutes and cheapest return fare £36.
From Thirsk to Masham we took a taxi but there is also a regular bus service.